Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Sunday, 13 April 2014

In Young Adult, Diablo Cody Showed Growth In A Film About Failing To Grow

Diablo Cody's writing style was always going to invite a backlash. When Juno spiralled from being a pleasant, if slight indie comedy into an apparent candidate for best film of that year, it brought a lot more scrutiny on the writing, particularly when Cody herself became 'a story', a former stripper etc etc. When you can put a face to the hamburger phones and home-skillets everything begins to look much more showy and when she followed up Juno with the colonoscocano that was Jennifer's Body then it really felt like the knives were out for her. Sometimes Cody is trying too hard to sound like an MTV presenter but she is capable of writing characters with genuine loneliness and vulnerability. Perhaps it's because she tries so hard to sound like an MTV presenter that she knows loneliness and vulnerability so well. Regardless, 2011's Young Adult reunited Cody with Juno director Jason Reitman and served as a step back in the right direction. Though the film is not perfect it benefits greatly from a strong Charlize Theron performance. Contrast Jennifer's Body, which died and died on the performance of omnibore Megan Fox.

Theron plays Mavis Gary, the typical high school Queen Bee who ditched her hick town for Minneapolis ("the Mini Apple") to become a ghost writer for a series of vapid young adult novels. As the well of prosperity people like Mavis draw from appears to be running dry as she approaches middle-age, she makes the impulsive decision to liberate her old flame from the shackles of marriage and fatherhood she insists he can't possibly be happy with. Everyone else in the cast is wearing Pixies t-shirts, starting lame tribute bands or leaving the wedding photos of divorcees up, but Mavis makes the active decision to fail to move on. She isn't stuck in the past, she can leave any time she wants.

The former Prom Queen who drinks too much and is trying to seduce a married man would be an easy character to mug through but Theron is a smarter actress than that, playing Mavis as so determined in her delusion that she can't help become a figure of pity. The only character that is willing to confront her about her obvious problems is a nerdy former classmate played by Patton Oswalt, the other highlight of the film. The character plays to comedian Oswalt's strengths, bitter and sarcastic (jocks beat him so badly in his teens for being gay that he ended up crippled and people's sympathy didn't last when it turned out he wasn't even gay) he can call Mavis out on her behaviour but is too jaded to do anything about his own life. The film would have benefited from more of their sniping back and forth. The blackness of the comedy is pitched in the fact that while Theron's character looks sad and immature in comparison to everyone else, they either indulge her and/or judge her behind her back, just like back in high school. Her parents shrug off her admitting to be an alcoholic, it only being a problem when she makes a spectacle of herself at a party later on. The popular girl from high school may have failed to grow up but really so did everyone else.

Cody's writing for this film thankfully avoids any of the gibberish slang that turns so many off (it  perhaps helps that she's writing for characters her own age) and the lead character is always kept pitiful to the audience rather than 'likeable'. She isn't some lovable misanthrope, girl needs help. Young Adult marks an improvement in her writing, staying very grounded and making adult characters that actually feel real. (Mavis Gary is like the main character from Bad Teacher if everyone involved that character wasn't a little dumb). However the film hits a speed bump in the third act, rushing through her hitting rock bottom and final rejection of change far too fast. The film could also do with more outright laughs to alleviate the more cringeworthy moments; its amusing to see Theron way overdressed for a crummy sports bar, but it felt like more comedy could have been mined from her bad behaviour. That's a common element of director Jason Reitman's films, the man seems to specialize in comedies with compelling characters but they're never really that funny (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air). Despite its faults, Young Adult is worth seeing for the great performances of its leads, who commit wholeheartedly to being heartless. Honest to blog. *shoots self*

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